Ambition is Overrated
Slow productivity isn’t enough. It’s time to embrace sustainable productivity.
Recently, Cal Newport — he of Digital Minimalism, Deep Work, and A World Without Email fame — wrote a mini-manifesto ($50 says it’s what his next book is about) —on an idea that he calls “Slow Productivity.” He claims that capping the number of hours we work will “do little to mitigate the stress of overload,” so we need to work on fewer projects.
What we need is a movement to reduce the volume of work that is assigned to us in the first place — a movement I call Slow Productivity… The central goal of Slow Productivity is to keep an individual worker’s volume at a sustainable level.
His idea to prevent burnout is — are you sitting down? — to give people less work.
It’s a rewrite of deep work for the office, a suggestion to cut down on the smaller tasks that eat into our time. There’s solid science behind the idea that the real devil behind all of this is task switching: having to complete a million tiny tasks creates anxiety and burns precious cognitive resources when we could be getting to the bigger, meaty work. Who doesn’t feel a unique sense dread when you realize that multiple areas of life/work are eating up your To Do list? Today, “Buy bird food/figure out corporate billing/Photoshop templates/record audio files/finish newsletter/exercise/cancel flooring estimate” has thus far resulted in cancelling the estimate and 3 episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Cal suggests some specifics, like a kanban-style board, which might be relevant or useful to a handful of offices. The larger point, the one that Cal and I agree on? Burnout is on the rise.
Burnout is an inevitable result of capitalism without worker protection
In order to make sure that any systemic burnout-prevention changes stick, we’d have to go further: punish employers/employees who answer/send emails beyond work hours. Various countries in Europe have been making laws out of this sort of thing for nearly a decade, and none of those countries seem to have fallen off of an economic cliff as the result of this legislation thus far.
It’s nice to think that some companies might adopt anti-burnout measures by minimizing those small tasks or doling out fewer projects. But as long as the economy rewards…